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Nature's fat-burning machine: brown adipose tissue in a hibernating mammal.

Review article
Ballinger MA, et al. J Exp Biol. 2018.


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is a unique thermogenic tissue in mammals that rapidly produces heat via nonshivering thermogenesis. Small mammalian hibernators have evolved the greatest capacity for BAT because they use it to rewarm from hypothermic torpor numerous times throughout the hibernation season. Although hibernator BAT physiology has been investigated for decades, recent efforts have been directed toward understanding the molecular underpinnings of BAT regulation and function using a variety of methods, from mitochondrial functional assays to 'omics' approaches. As a result, the inner-workings of hibernator BAT are now being illuminated. In this Review, we discuss recent research progress that has identified players and pathways involved in brown adipocyte differentiation and maturation, as well as those involved in metabolic regulation. The unique phenotype of hibernation, and its reliance on BAT to generate heat to arouse mammals from torpor, has uncovered new molecular mechanisms and potential strategies for biomedical applications.

© 2018. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.


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